I was recently asked to write a poem to accompany a friend’s painting called “Calvary”. The briefing: a short, English poem, with the usual references to salvation, three crosses, three days, not too in-your-face, just subtly hinting at Christ’s sacrifice and its consequences.
It is in itself a beautiful painting, but it is only the title that clearly states its meaning. I tried to imitate this in the poem. I think I was too subtle:
The hovering sky hunches down to hear
maybe, some message,
violent as nails driven into wood,
to hear a branch torn, a body broken,
the earth shaken
but all is silence:
a single drop in the pond of consciousness
a soundless shifting breeze
a single silent wave
that starts the storm
Since the word Calvary evokes such a multitude of very specific associations, I left the poem open to various levels of interpretation. You can read it as a description of a landscape unshaken by what to us is a tremendous event, but might have been just one crucifixion of many to the people of that time – thus, silent and seemingly without any message or meaning. But if you follow the words like you would the ripples in a pond, will you not find the storm?
As these things go, the poem found its own path and rhythm and I let it go where it wanted. My friend liked the poem, but since it did not quite fulfil her briefing, she used it in a word collage with phrases of her own and a line from a gospel song. I promptly gave up ownership of what I no longer saw as my property.
The dilemma now comes in deciding whose poem it is. I do not want it ascribed to me, though I arguably still own copyright of the phrases she did use. Since it will hang with her painting, if there is no author mentioned, it will be ascribed to her, which I don't really mind. And the gospel group will have to be acknowledged for their contribution.
The poem has become a foster child belonging to no-one, shunted between everyone. Here I give it a silent resting place to speak for itself. May it somehow survive in this shifting, stormy world.